I came across an interesting article while surfing around about cubicles. It got me thinking a little bit about my work space and the good/bad things about it.
I’ve got one of the “small” cubes in my building (since I haven’t moved cubes at all since I started working at Kraft). It’s about 6×8 feet with full (~6 feet) height walls, L-shaped desk, a 3-drawer filing cabinet, two overhead storage bins above one leg of the L. Certainly not spacious by any stretch of the imagination – I have to steal a chair from an adjacent vacant cube in order to have anyone else sit in the cube when we discuss something. Or, they end up standing, which is ok for quick conversations.
The nice thing about it is that I’ve got a wall behind me. Maybe I have a little paranoia, but I’m just not a fan of anyone walking by my desk and peering at what I’m doing. At least in the building I’m in, the larger ~8×8 cubes don’t have a ‘back wall’ per se – you share a 16×8 space with someone else, and there are a couple 3-drawer file cabinets as a divider of sorts (facing opposites – one is yours, the other is your neighbor’s). I think the concept here was to make it easy for people to collaborate, but at least in my area, less than half of the ‘double cubes’ have pairs of people who are ‘matched’ (same department). So, you end up with less noise isolation, which can be a problem if you share a double with a loudtalker.
Noise – in general, it’s not too bad – there are plenty of soft surfaces around so there’s no echoing, and most people are good about not checking voicemail over speaker phone, etc. There are a couple of loud-talkers that I occasionally have to stick my head over the wall and shush while I’m on a conference call, but that’s a minor annoyance.
Private conversations – the one exceptionally smart thing they’ve done in our building is to create ‘phone booths’ in various places on the floor. They’re little rooms with a phone and seating for 1-3 people. Handy for a quick personal call, or any other private conversations. They’re not reservable either – you just use what’s available. The only thing I don’t like about them is that they’ve got a glass wall, so you feel a little bit like you’re in a fishbowl. For semi-private conversations, there’s a couple of ‘break areas’ on each floor. They’re a collection of high-top tables and stools that are good for informal meetings, product evaulation, etc. for anywhere from 2-6 people. For people who don’t eat in the building cafeteria, it’s also a space for lunch – there’s a fridge, ice machine, water cooler, sink, and microwave(s) – some break areas also have a couple vending machines.
Personality – “The Man” doesn’t seem to mind what we’ve got around our cubes as long as it’s not “workplace inappropriate” . I can have my Demotivators calendar up on the wall, magnetic poetry on the overhead bin door, etc. Although we’re officially supposed to keep the tops of our overhead units clear (so the cleaning crew can dust up there), you’ll never see an empty overhead at an occupied cube here. Most people put awards they’ve received up there along with empty packaging from the product(s) they’ve worked on. (I’ve got a nice display of Philly tubs/cartons.)
Private offices – generally, you get one of these once you’re a second-level manager (or its equivalent in the technical ranks). Typically about 8×10, glass + door on one wall, desk, credenza, leather chair, a couple of chairs for your visitors.
So, what would I change? Glad you asked…
If I ran the zoo, I’d give everyone an 8×8 cubicle. Give them 3 full walls and maybe a half-height wall across half of the open end, if only to create the illusion of a door. In our building’s layout, the cubes would be grouped in 4′s (2 on either side of an aisle). In the middle have a table for 4, ideally with a power point and a network drop (at least until our IT department gets into the 21st century and realizes that WPA is pretty darn secure). That way, you get some of the collaborative benefits of the original concept for the “action office” (the original name for the cube setup), but still get some of the privacy of your own office. Then, arrange the seating so that logical workgroups are together. I should be sharing a row with cream cheese developers and/or engineering support. The 8×8 cube also opens the possibility of a U-shaped desk for those who want additional work surface (I can see this being handy for the engineers with their 24-36″ high CAD printouts – they can have a blueprint laid out on their ‘back desk’ without monopolizing their entire workspace.). If you’ve got a senior engineer/technical person (or someone else who just doesn’t want an office), make some 8×16 ‘private’ cubes with a U-shaped workspace in one half and a small 4-person table in the other half for in-cube meetings). I’d keep the phone rooms – maybe frost some of the glass panes to allow privacy, so you can see they’re occupied, but not by who. (Coincidentally, our HR department’s offices all have frosted glass on their windows, so you can’t see who’s in there with them.) I’d keep the existing break areas, but I might make them a little more friendly/lounge-like, like our Gevalia Cafe space.
To quote Dennis Miller: “Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”
So, overall, I’d say the cubes at my office are probably better than most, but I think there’s certainly some opportunity to fix a few minor gripes without messing up the layout too much.